True Life Rescue Story

Walker tries to ascend the Napes but fails 

Tuesday 12th May 2009

(updated with more details of the rescue 30 May 09)

The following is the incident log of the rescue followed by an account written by one of the climbers who effected this rescue.  I have included his account as it accurately describes the events surrounding the incident both before the rescue team gets called out and whilst the team were on route.

It also clearly epitomises the ethos of mountain rescue - i.e. fellow mountaineers, climbers and walkers who go to the aid of others in need of help.  Well done to these two real heroes of the day.

[The team have kindly received permission from the author to reproduce his email for the benefit of others]

Log Extract

2009:25 12/05/09 (2.38 p.m.) - Tuesday  

Request from Police to attend an incident on Napes Needle - male reported cragfast.  Limited callout made but whilst making their way up the fell, the elderly male walker was rescued by two climbers who were climbing Needle Ridge at the time.  The cragfast walker had ascended the gulley, failed to bear left onto the dress circle and was stuck on the crag 45m above safe ground.  The climbers went back down for him and lowered him back down the crag on a climbing rope.  Although rescued by the climbers the appearance of the Wasdale team at the bottom of the mountain was very reassuring to the two climbers effecting the rescue (this information has been provided by the climbers as the team were stood down as soon as the crag fast walker was off the Napes)

[NY 20957 10022]

Email received by Team


I don't know if it is of any use but I thought I would give you some more information as to what happened on 12 May behind Napes Needle.


We had had no intention of climbing the Needle.  The plan was to do Needles Ridge and, if it had gone well, to look at Eagles Nest Ridge Direct.  It was three years since I had led on rock and the challenge of the Needle was insufficient for us with our grand mountaineering route plans.   But plans never survive the first instance of contact and we found ourselves being magnetically drawn to the base of the Needle, and the casual look up the worn crack led to  comments about ‘I reckon that will go...’

It did.  In the cold wind, and in the May shade, I climbed the Needle without grace, skill or competence and enjoyed myself hugely in the process.  The last few moves from the mantleshelf tortured my mind as I battled with the conflict of carrying on to glory, or shuffling back to safety but suffering ignominious defeat at the hands of a VD+.  What hope for an MVS- if one couldn’t complete the Needle?

As it was, my friend and I basked in glory on top of the Needle, retreated with a modicum of style (thanks to the excellent advice on the Needlesport website - thanks Steve) to the base where we picked up our sacks and made our way to the start of Needle Ridge.  The Needle had, however, taken its first casualty.  I was not up for too much excitement after the mental struggle I had gone through to do that 4 metres which constitutes the second pitch of the Needle.  Instead, my friend racked up and set up, happy to lead the entire route.

The Ridge is a wonderful climb.  Never too difficult, it soars up behind the Needle offering climbers like ourselves endless enjoyment on perfect holds, positions and views.  The wind ensured we never got too bored - it found its way through our thick fleeces and thermals and we keeping warm was a constant struggle.

We weren’t the only people out that day.  As Ali led the third pitch, a person began to shuffle their way up Needle Gully below us.  His attire was curious - he had wellington boots and a shoulder bag - but his confidence put us to shame.  Without seemingly having any concern about the difficulty, he clambered, climbed, thrutched his way to the point where he was level with me.  Difficult moves were overcome by the simple expedient of throwing his bag up to the next big clump of grass and then hauling himself hand over hand on the tussocks until he and the bag were re-united.

This was not good for my fragile state of mind.  The conflict in my mind arose again - was this someone who knew the crag intimately (perhaps he was a botanist collecting samples?) or was this someone very, very lost.  Either way, I couldn’t watch.  This person was on the edge literally and metaphorically, and a slip was going to be horrific.  I tried to concentrate on my leader but Ali, whatever his predicament at the sharp end of the rope, was infinitely safer than the person 20 metres away from me at the back of the gully.

The voice that reached me was remarkably calm.  ‘I think I’m in a bit of a pickle.’

The relief that provided me was immense.  I could at least stop the situation worsening.

‘Is there a way out of this?’ he asked.  ‘I’m not sure I can get down that bit again.’

‘I don’t think you can get up the gully,’ I replied, ‘but you can’t attempt to reverse that section.  Give me a minute, get yourself safe, and I’ll just have a word with my climbing partner.’

Ali and I had made the decision earlier in the day that we didn’t want to take mobiles with us but we were not totally luddite in our attitude to communications as Ali had brought his walky-talkies with him.  I had never used them before, but the ability to have a technical conversation in high winds with my climbing partner 30m above was a complete novelty. 

‘Ali, I’ve got a problem.  There’s a guy in the gully to my left, about my height, who can’t go up or down.  I’m not sure what we can do.’

Together we went through the options.  Ali wasn’t prepared to down climb the pitch; he was too high to allow me to lower him to the man to make the man safe and, if I climbed to Ali’s height, we wouldn’t be able to lower the rope to the man as he was off line.

We made a plan.  I would climb to Ali, put Ali on the rope and lower him into the gully.  Ali would then traverse to the man, set up a belay, and then in turn lower the man as far as he could.  As we only had one 60m rope, if it wasn’t long enough, there would be three of us stuck in a line stretching over 60m.  This was undesirable.

I surprised myself at still having a semblance of calmness when I spoke to the man.  ‘If you have a mobile, I would recommend that you dial 999, ask for Mountain Rescue, and explain that you are in Needle Gully and are crag fast.  If you can get a signal, you will be able to make a 999 call.  Tell them that there are two climbers with you, but that we may not be able to complete the rescue as we only have rope.’

I climbed quickly to join Ali,  and we set up the belay.  It was not a joyous moment.  For a start, belays on mountain routes are there for decoration only - you never expect to have to use them for proper.  Here we were looking again at the gear, double, triple checking each piece of protection.  What was the direction of loading? How much weight would I be taking on my harness?  How would we stop Ali swinging if he fell?

Ali did one last check and started down the gully side.  The system loaded and I started lowering him slowly down the steep choss and grass, over the small outcrops until he was level with the man.  He then placed a piece of protection (which he called ‘bobbins’ for its security - I think it involved putting a sling on a blade of grass) and began the traverse to the man.

A call on the radio told me that he was with the man.  More bobbins protection had been placed so the two were marginally protected.  If it failed, they were in for a big fall and swing.  The man explained to Ali that he had meant to go to the Dress Circle but he hadn’t noticed the Climbers’ Traverse going left and he had carried up the back of the gully.

From my view point, I could see the MRT Land Rover at Wasdale Head.  The reassurance this provided was enormous.  We were no longer on our own.  If it didn’t work out, they were there to watch us and would be able to effect a more competent rescue than our own.  Our confidence was boosted immediately.

Ali put the man into a sling and, from his dubious belay, took the last few metres of rope from my end of the pile and lowered the man down the gully for 15 m.  As the rope ran out, the man was put back onto safer terrain.

We signalled to the MRT that we now OK and, as Ali climbed the grot back up again, the Wasdale team set off again to their real lives.

Self-doubt racked us for the final pitches.  Should we have done the rescue without calling out MRT?  Had we over-reacted?  Was the team really there to act in a mother hen role?

It is perhaps the biggest decision I have had to take in the hills.  Normally, I think for myself and, on the more difficult things, I argue with my climbing partner.  But this was different.  There was someone else who was having the predicament.  There was no guarantee that we could help and, if it went wrong, we could have found ourselves being challenged more than the Needle had done earlier.

Perhaps, if my climbing partner and I were better, we would have been able to confidently rescue the man and let the MRT be for the day.  If we had had 2 x 50m ropes, we probably wouldn’t even have thought of calling them either.  As it was, we had to judge our equipment, our skills and our safety and the simple answer was that a rescue by ourselves would be putting us at our limit.  Knowing that the MRT was there, that it was equipped to sort out the incident and any further developments quickly, gave us the confidence to do what we did. 

The sound of the wailing siren; the flashing lights in the valley - the team dropped everything to help us all on the hill and our thanks are with them.

All credit for the rescue should be directed to my climbing partner who actually had the courage to descend the gully on a single rope 
and, at 45m run out, effect a rescue at a very poor angle of rope.  A fall or failed gear would have resulted in a unpleasant fall and swing 
for the pair of them.

My best wishes to the team and my continued thanks to all for their 
commitment to climbers myself.

Oliver Bratton and Ali Morris 


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